April 18, 2014

An amazing story of death and Resurrection worth sharing

By John F. Fink (Rome correspondent)

(Following is a news story that might have been reported in the Roman periodical Tempus in the year 30.)

Rome, 15th year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius—Today, Praetorian Prefect Lucius Aelius Sejanus was reportedly on his way to the Isle of Capri, where Emperor Tiberius resides, to inform him of remarkable occurrences in Judea. It has been reported that a man there rose from the dead.

Judea is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, near the easternmost part of the Roman Empire. For the past four years, it has been governed by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, the fifth man to hold the office.

In his report to Emperor Tiberius and Prefect Sejanus, Pilate said that he had ordered the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth after Jewish authorities brought Jesus to him and accused the man of making himself the king of the Jews.

Pilate said that he had personally interrogated Jesus and found no guilt in the man, but it appeared that a riot would ensue if he didn’t condemn him. When he asked the Jewish authorities if he should crucify their king, they replied that they have no king but Caesar.

Our own reporter in Jerusalem reports that the Jewish authorities were afraid that Jesus’ followers might unintentionally cause a disturbance that Pilate would put down ruthlessly, and then take away from the Jewish authorities some of the privileges they now enjoy.

He also reported that Pilate had Jesus flogged before the crucifixion. After the crucifixion, Pilate had an inscription placed on the cross that said, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”

Our reporter also confirms that the news around Jerusalem is that Jesus rose from the dead. He died on a Friday and reportedly rose again on Sunday. Naturally, our reporter said, most people are skeptical of the report and he is investigating.

After Jesus’ death, our reporter said, two of his followers, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, placed his body in a tomb in a garden near the site of the crucifixion. They rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb.

In his report, Pilate said that he had been surprised when, the day after the crucifixion, he had another visit from the Jewish authorities. They remembered that Jesus had said that he would be raised from the dead on the third day. Therefore, they asked for a guard at the tomb to keep Jesus’ followers from stealing the body and then saying that he had been raised from the dead. Pilate granted the guard.

On Sunday morning, the tomb was empty. Some women went to the tomb to anoint the dead body, wondering who would roll the stone away. When they arrived, they found the stone rolled back and they claim that Jesus appeared to them alive.

Our reporter interviewed the guards after they met with Jewish authorities. They told him that Jesus’ disciples came by night and stole the body while they were asleep. However, before the guard met with the Jewish authorities, they told people that there had been an earthquake and the huge stone in front of the tomb was rolled back. They also reported seeing a man dressed in white sitting on the stone and said that he spoke to the women.

Our reporter has tried to interview Jesus’ closest followers, but the men seem to be in hiding since the crucifixion. One of his female followers, though, Mary of Magdala, said that she had seen the risen Jesus. She was one of the women who went to the tomb and found it empty. She said that, when she saw Jesus, she at first thought he was a gardener and asked him if he had moved the body. However, she said, she then recognized Jesus when he spoke her name.

She said that she had informed Peter and John, two of Jesus’ followers. They, too, had seen the empty tomb. She said further that the other followers of Jesus refused to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but then he appeared to them, actually walking into a locked room on Sunday night.

Pilate’s report, prepared for Emperor Tiberius and Prefect Sejanus, said that there was no doubt that the tomb was empty, but he refused to believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. If such a thing ever happened, he said, it could change the whole course of history.

That news story wasn’t actually reported in a Roman periodical, but it could have been because all the facts are historical. Tiberius was the Roman emperor in the year 30 and, beginning in the year 25, he resided on the Isle of Capri. He left the administration of the empire in the hands of Lucius Sejanus until the year 31, when he ordered Sejanus to be executed for plotting to overthrow him.

Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judea, from 26-36. He authorized the crucifixion of Jesus after being pressured to do so by the high priest, Caiaphas. Pilate order the sign above the cross and he permitted a guard to be placed by Jesus’ tomb.

All that is historical. And so is the Resurrection. It’s not just some pious belief among Christians; it’s an historic fact. There can be no doubt that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and the guards’ claim that Jesus’ followers stole his body while they were asleep is ridiculous. Rolling that stone back surely would have awakened them.

The possibility that Jesus didn’t actually die is also preposterous. Too many witnesses saw him die, and he could hardly have awakened in the tomb in a weakened condition and still managed to free himself from his burial bounds, roll the stone back and escape without the guard noticing.

We say that we believe in the Resurrection because it’s an historic fact. It’s a fact that Jesus’ followers knew enough to die for.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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